The Female Hyena's Mock Penis

Certainly one of the most unusual oddities of the animal world is the female hyena's false genitalia. Sexual mimicry is hardly unknown in the animal kingdom, but the female hyena's equipment is truly astonishing. (And certainly, it would seem to outsiders, somewhat ill-conceived.)
Many cultures, upon encountering the spotted hyena, have assumed that there are no females of the species. This is an understandable mistake, since the female spotted hyena sports a mock penis which is between 7 and 8 inches long. Females are also 10% larger than the males, and are more aggressive and territorial.
The same cause is responsible for both phenomena: in the last stages of pregnancy, alpha female hyenas start pumping testosterone into the fetuses which they are carrying. This massive dose of male hormone causes the clitoris and birth canal to enlarge into the false penis. It also creates a false scrotum out of the female's vulva.
This is strange, but interesting. It's what happens next which (you would think) would cast doubt on that whole "intelligent design" theory.
The female hyena basically has to give birth through a penis. The birth canal is about an inch in diameter, and extends the length of the false clitoris. Through this, the female hyena must pass a baby which averages about two pounds in weight.
The tearing which occurs during this process is no doubt painful. It is certainly fatal, as the spotted hyena has a surprisingly high death rate for first-time mothers.
The process is also often fatal for the cubs. The umbilical cord is only about 4 inches long. Unfortunately, the baby hyena has to travel about 23 inches from the womb to the open air. Given the difficulty of having to be passed through a one-inch birth canal, the birth process is understandably slow, and frequently results in the death of the first cub by asphyxiation before it can be born.
The second cub, its passage somewhat loosened by the first, has a better shot at making it through the birth process alive.
All of this assumes that the female and the male hyena are able to mate in the first place, of course. The female hyena's combination giant-clitoris-and-vagina both point forward, as you might expect from a mock penis. But the male's penis does, as well. This creates a situation where the male has to crouch behind the female in what must surely be an awkward procedure.
Despite all the difficulties, this bizarre set-up works for the spotted hyena, given that there are still spotted hyenas in the world!


Photo credit: Flickr/Rainbirder (on migration!)

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Anonymous's picture


so I cant get over this "the female spotted hyena sports a mock penis which is between 7 and 8 inches long" - what a cruel God to not even give human males (any I have seen, anyway) such large dongs - and these females do not even need to use them!